Workplace Bully or Tough Boss: Recent Legal Decisions in Canada


Workplace Bully or Tough Boss: Recent Legal Decisions in Canada

I’ve written on the topic of Tough Boss vs Workplace Bully many times but I am weighing in again. A recent blog post revealed some interesting legal decisions that you may find helpful in understanding workplace bullying and tough bosses. While these decisions are based in Canada, it is clear that nations are riffing off one another in trying to parse out definitions and guidelines.


Defining Workplace Bullying

In this piece one failed complaint of workplace bullying rested on the point of view that: “An employer’s conduct must be deemed extreme, flagrant or outrageous and calculated to deliberately impose harm.” In the case it appeared that the complainant was unhappy about her treatment, but the treatment didn’t rise to meet this standard.

Another decision that went for the complainant was based on the following:
“When performance management is no longer corrective but is designed to intimidate or insult an employee, it will amount to bullying. “

In a third matter, “…a boss’s insulting language and outbursts of anger were enough to meet this test (of bullying).”

In each of these cases the courts were looking for the outrageous behavior of insults and mistreatment—things like personal insults such as calling someone an “idiot” or “pathetic”, publicly degrading and attacking an employee, threats of violence, screaming or angry outbursts of swearing, or making unrealistic performance demands which keep changing and so are impossible to meet. And, all these behaviors caused emotional harm to the targets. These are all behaviors that I identify as Type 5 “Classic Bullying” behavior in my typology which distinguishes among different types of abrasive behavior in the workplace.


Defining “Tough Boss” Behavior

Tough bosses rarely if ever go for the emotional insults. They set high standards of excellence but are clear in their assignments, set deliverables, and demand excellence. They may even be gruff and intimidating. But, in the end, their gruffness is not personal and while demanding, they are not designed to insult or harm others.

Therein lies the key difference—what words are assaultive, personal and insulting and what words are about the work projects, expectations and even the demand for excellence.

I’m Kathleen Bartle, a strategic consultant on workplace conflict to executives worldwide for more than 20 years.  My work brings individualized solutions to your teams’ lost productivity, loss of key personnel, low morale, and the high costs resulting from bullying, abrasive behaviors and interpersonal workplace conflicts.  You can contact me here.